The Mad Men Project: Week 8

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

“You know, I really feel bad for you.”

“I don’t think about you at all.”

Depending on which day you ask me, that might be my favorite “Mad Men” moment in the history of the show. Only Jon Hamm, the actor, could deliver that line in such a scathingly flippant way, and only Don Draper (or, well, Dick Whitman), the character, could sell it with such authority and disdain. I like Ginsberg. Really, I do. I know I’m out on a limb in saying that, but he reminds me of how much I used to root for Peggy to succeed. These days, Peggy reminds me of … well … I don’t know what she reminds me of, but it’s not Peggy. Even so, he deserved a moment like that from Don, and Don seemed more than happy to give it to him. The delivery was so perfect as The Man nearly began his sentence before The Punk Kid even finished his initial jab. 

Oddly enough (and completely apropos of everything I just said), the moment brought to mind how much I’ve enjoyed Roger this season, for reasons I can’t even quite explain at this point. Yeah, it’s annoying to see him powerless, but watching him connive over the course of the last few episodes has been a treat to see. Betty — another character I’ve inexplicably been rooting for the few times she’s been around this season — subsequently went out there and reminded me of why I can’t stand that character so much, I won’t even watch anything the actress, January Jones, is involved with anymore (and Sally, you’ve worked your way on that list, too, sweeite). Pete is still annoyingly lusting over a woman he might never even see again outside of dreams and one more time, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out once again that Megan’s teeth seem to be not nearly as crooked and out of place as they initially were. Yes. I will keep saying this until someone addresses the point, either telling me I’m an idiot or agreeing with me whole heartedly.

We’re a mere few weeks away from putting a bow on season five and it’s hard to tell where all of this might end up (though my hope is that it will feature a budding friendship between Dawn and Sal). But enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …

Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling

“Dark Shadows” (a title hopefully not inspired by the recent release of the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp theatrical remake snoozefest of the same name) was true to its title, as it involved several key characters (mostly Don and Betty) retreating to the darker corners of their souls in desperate grabs for self-preservation. Roger Sterling, of course, is no stranger to this kind of thinking; after all, he declared to Peggy that within the agency it’s “every man for himself.” Roger wasn’t concerned about self-preservation in this episode, but the darkest, ugliest traits of his character definitely drove his share of the plot.

For starters, there was Roger Sterling the bigot. Not since he donned black face in season three has Roger’s insensitivity been so openly displayed. Needing ideas for a secret (damn that Pete!) pitch meeting/dinner with reps from Monarch Wines, maker of the Jewish-targeted Manischewitz brand, Roger calls upon — gasp — Michael Ginsburg for creative insight. He tells Ginsburg that Monarch is looking to market a wine to “normal” people like himself, and during the course of their meeting proceeds to direct several more anti-Semitic cheap shots at him. Ginsburg is unfazed by Roger’s quips, but is concerned that this side work might get him into hot water with Don. Ever the pragmatist, Roger hands Ginsburg the remaining wad of cash in his pocket exchange for Ginsburg’s services and silence (It must be Roger Sterling Sr.’s money that’s truly bankrolling the entire outfit). Ginsburg is not silent about the arrangement, however, and when Peggy finds out, she is disappointed that Roger did not call on her for this secret project like he did for Mohawk Airlines.

Roger isn’t finished using (Jewish) people as a means to an end, as he needs ex-wife Jane Siegel to be his pretend-wife at the client dinner (to be fair, this was at Mr. Cooper’s initial insistence). Roger was never comfortable mentioning Jane’s ethnicity when he was actually married to her, but once he’s at the dinner table with the Rosenbergs, he’s extolling the exceptional beauty of Jewish women, lamenting the prejudice in the world and expressing his “envy for the humor, the closeness, the way your people keep track of each other.” This hogwash, combined with Ginsburg’s bus ad idea, wins over the Rosenbergs. Despite the presence of handsome Bernie, Jane must keep up the facade of being married in order for Roger to lock down the account.

Jane’s compliance in this dinner scheme meant that Roger purchase her a new apartment, mainly so she could escape the trappings of their failed marriage and start anew. After the dinner, Roger wants to see the apartment, “the better end of the deal.” Once inside the barely furnished flat, Roger’s libido takes over and he and Jane end up having relations, despite her brief protest. The morning after, Jane is in tears, having realized that her new apartment has been sullied with the memory of a one-night stand with her ex-husband. “You get everything you want and you still had to do this,” she tells him. Roger answers with “I feel terrible,” an act of contrition so hollow and insincere that it’s laughable. While Roger didn’t sink to any particular “new” kind of low this week, this episode leaves the impression that any hope for the redemption of Roger Sterling’s soul now has a snowball’s chance in hell.

Julie Ciaramella (TwitterBlog) – Betty Francis, Megan Draper

After a few weeks away, Betty Francis is back. She’s going to Weight Watchers meetings, getting jealous of her ex-husband’s new wife, and telling Sally about Anna Draper.

At the kitchen table with Sally and Bobby, Betty goes through Bobby’s school papers and finds a drawing of a whale. Written on the back is a note from Don: “Lovely Megan — I went out to get a lightbulb. When I get back, I’ll see you better.” (Wow, Don Draper has changed.) The expression that crosses Betty’s face at that moment says everything: the flash of recognition that Don has something with Megan that he never had with Betty. The jealousy. And then the quiet, seething rage underneath it all.

Betty’s way of enacting her jealousy involves Sally, who’s drawing a family tree for school. Sally asks if she should include Megan and Henry in the tree, and Betty says, “Of course. And don’t forget your father’s first wife.”

Sally is understandably confused — as far as she knows, Betty was her father’s first wife. Betty seems to be under the impression that Megan doesn’t know about Anna Draper (even though she does) and that if she knew, it would cause a rift between her and Don. Betty will do anything to stir the pot, including using her kids.

If Sally were older, she’d probably attempt some sleuthing on her own to find out more about Anna. But for now, she follows her mother’s advice and asks Megan, who does the best she can with the question (and a very moody Sally) before telling Don. His initial reaction is to pick up the phone and call Betty, but Megan says, “If you call her, you’re giving her exactly what she wanted: the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away.” Never before has any character on this show been able to sum up Betty’s childishness so succinctly. Because Don has changed under Megan’s influence, he puts down the phone and even apologizes to Megan for snapping at her.

Back at the Francis residence, the family sits down for Thanksgiving dinner. Betty says she’s thankful for everything she has, and that no one has anything better. She knows, though, that Megan has something better: the fancy apartment, the thin body, and Don. Betty is bored and stuck, trying to lose weight and eating approximately two bites of food for dinner. She has a miserable existence and she knows it, and now she can’t even get a thrill out of attempting to create friction between Don and Megan.

But not everything is perfect for the new Mrs. Draper. Her acting career doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and as a friend points out, Megan has the luxury of not having to wait tables. She can stay ensconced at 73rd and Park and never have to worry about working again, but Megan wants to work. However, she might be starting to find out just how difficult it is to follow the new path she’s chosen.

Mark Zeltner (TwitterBlog and Blog) – Don Draper

So much of our everyday existence is out of our control. When you think about it, the vast majority of our life is given up to fate: who our parents are, who we marry, where we work. Everything that happens to us is influenced by the luck of the draw and that die is cast before we are born. Of course, Don Draper doesn’t much believe in fate. It takes a certain kind of man to steal someone else’s identity in a blatant attempt to change the life that was handed to him by chance. So when he feels his new wife pulling away or his dominance at his job slipping, he takes control.

Don is reminded of his past attempts to manipulate his fate when the ghost of his “widow” Anna is thrust back into the narrative. Betty’s attempt to shake up the apparently happy (and much thinner) Draper household by planting a ticking bomb in Sally’s mind almost works. When Megan discusses Sally’s questions with Draper he typically overreacts. The truth about his actual identity is the most powerful card that Betty has to hold over him. But after an initial blowup he is gradually calmed by Megan and attempts to heal the damage with Sally. For now, he has his wife and daughter under a semblance of control.

One place where Draper has been able to completely manipulate his fate is at work. His preeminence as the alpha male of the office has not been challenged for years. Then someone as unlikely as Michael Ginsberg starts to challenge that preeminence. He can’t match Don in the way of looks or charm. In fact, he is his exact opposite in both these categories. But he can write engaging ad copy and create compelling campaign ideas. His looming dominance over the other copywriters in the office threatens Don’s sense of control. If he isn’t the most creative guy in the room, then why is he the boss?

The threat proves so immediate that Draper goes into work on a Saturday and after bumping into some of Ginsberg’s ad copy, decides to do some brainstorming of his own. His idea for the Sno-Ball soft drink campaign involves a devil sinfully proclaiming its goodness. While the other copywriters prefer Ginsberg’s campaign, Don announces his intent to bring both to the client. In the end, he ditches Ginsberg’s work in a cab and promotes his own idea. The client bites and Draper has established his dominance once again. When confronted by Ginsberg in the elevator the next day Don bats him away as if he was a fly. “I feel bad for you,” says Ginsberg. “I don’t think of you at all,” replies Draper. For the moment, at least, this is the rare occasion when Don Draper is speaking the complete truth.

Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell

We all know what it feels like to be the old hand, to wear out our welcome, to be passed over and ineffectual. It is human nature, and Matthew Weiner is great at portraying the dark sides of human nature. How can one not empathize with Peggy when Roger selects Ginsberg for a pet project? How can one not pity Betty when she spies the more-attractive “Mrs. Draper” dressing through the window?

However, the one who, in “Dark Shadows,” was un-empathizable — if that is a word — is Pete. He seems to have forsaken managing accounts for afternoon daydreams on his office davenport. Much like Don’s feverish dream back in “Mystery Date,” Pete’s fantasy over Beth is a cheap way of relaying to the viewer the predominant subconscious thought of the character. Yes, Weiner, we get it: Pete’s main goal is not to snag the most lucrative account, but to appeal to the New York Times for an exposé on the firm only to impress Beth. As Beth coos in the fantasy, “I saw you in the Sunday Times Magazine.”

Campbell’s plan is, of course, unsuccessful. Enraged, he telephones Don on a Sunday morning to quibble over the fact that the writer failed to include SCDP in the piece. Like a slap to his chubby face, Don snaps back that he shouldn’t be bothered with Pete’s failures. Pete fails to heed the cliché that the grass is not always greener on the other side, which was delivered almost forebodingly by Beth’s husband.

Last week, we saw “Mr. Belding” (Dennis Haskins) hocking non-dairy whipped topping, and, as a bookend, we saw “Mr. Lippman” (Richard Fancy) pedaling Manischewitz this week, as perfect examples of being the old hand and put out to pasture. Who is going to be the warhorse, sitcom character actor we see next week? Paul Lynde? Buddy Hackett? Harvey Korman?

Cristina Moreno (TwitterTumblrWebsite) – Peggy Olson

This week’s episode, “Dark Shadows,” was about the darkness inside everyone. Almost every character’s plotline had something to do with jealousy and resentment, neither of which is fun to discuss or watch, and the episode had a heavy cloud of dreariness hovering over it. I guess that was the point.

The creative team at SCDP — Peggy, Stan, and Ginsberg — work together well, but Ginsberg has an interesting edge to him that sets him apart. He appears to have a limitless wealth of ideas for every account and gives one hell of a pitch. Peggy, meanwhile, is floundering. Her work on the Heinz account failed to impress the clients and her pitch to the Cool Whip folks was less than stellar. When they pitch Don their Sno-Ball ideas (the drink, not the puffed up confectionery snack of calorific goodness), Peggy has some good ideas, but they don’t pop. Ginsberg, meanwhile, has the enthusiasm and energy that feels like an automatic sell, or at least the clear beginning of one.

Peggy seems to encourage Ginsberg, but when she learns that Roger has given Ginsberg a secret account, she bitterly confronts him. One of the many problems with this is that she’s done similar work for Roger before (Mohawk Airlines), so she’s not in a position to judge. There’s also the fact that Roger is the boss, so she should probably just deal. The one thought line of hers that rings true is, “I can write for anything.” Peggy is a writer. It’s what she does. So she should be able to come up with an idea for every account that comes their way.

The thing is … she can’t. Or rather, she hasn’t been able to. Whether it’s because she has thrown all of her efforts into the Heinz pitch (which Don rightly notes that she has been buried under) or because she’s in some slump of creativity, she hasn’t been able to come up with anything memorable this entire season. When she sees that Ginsberg’s pitch was steamrolled by Don, she has a very satisfied smirk on her face, which felt dirty and spiteful. Jealousy isn’t a good look on you, Peggy. It’s not a good look on anyone.

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